The AEW Women’s World Title Eliminator Tournament is here and it’s certainly attracted attention. Half of the tournament is set in America while the other half is set over in Japan. The Japanese side of the bracket will be available online on YouTube with English & Japanese commentary. AEW has sanctioned notable Joshi wrestlers such as Maki Itoh, Aja Kong, Yuka Sakazaki, and Emi Sakura, for an opportunity at the AEW Women’s Title. Before the pandemic, AEW tried to instill Joshi wrestling in the United States similar to WCW bringing in Cruiserweights. Given the problems with AEW Women’s Division so far, it’s clear that AEW needs to regularly put Joshi wrestling on Dynamite.
Shockingly and infuriatingly, AEW’s Women’s Division suffered setback after setback in 2020. From the pandemic rendering international travel unsafe, to Britt Baker & Kris Statlander suffering harsh injuries, to refusing to sign more experienced veterans that are TV-ready such as Allysin Kay, Priscilla Kelly, or Deonna Purrazzo, to booking the Nightmare Collective. It’s fair to say AEW is not living up to the potential for women’s wrestling. We still only get one women’s match a week on TNT. Most problematic of all; the division feels at war with itself. Some weeks it will appear as though the division is thematically Joshi inspired. Then the next week the division is comparatively a Divas Era 2000s feel. The two do not mix at all yet AEW stubbornly trugs along like nothing is wrong.
There’s one option to fix the division that AEW might want to consider. Sign experienced Joshi wrestlers from Japan, pay them to live in America, and put them on Dynamite. AEW made a huge mistake in having their women’s wrestlers, who are mainly familiar with the American style and booking them without developing their characters. Having Big Swole, who has all the tools to be a great character, and not give her any substantial story using her personality is ridiculous. Western wrestling is entirely dependent on the story for people to care. Eastern wrestling is focused on athleticism and the quality of the sport. Booking USA female wrestlers without substantial vignettes or promos and sending them in unfamiliar territory is egregious.
The Cruiserweights in WCW worked because their wrestling was different from the rest of the roster. While Hulk Hogan, Ric Flair, & Sting were doing the southern rassling. Chris Jericho, Rey Mysterio, & Eddie Guerrero instilled the future of wrestling with high action, never before seen at the time, moves from Mexico and Japan. Joshi wrestling could be the next big style to make it in America. The problem is AEW is going to need more than Riho and Hikaru Shida to make it work. And the first step is for them to be available in America regularly.
Remember when Riho was AEW Women’s Champion? She became a star overnight and remains one of my favorite wrestlers because of her underdog character and style. I root for her to succeed because she is an excellent wrestler with an insane amount of likeability. Riho put on an absolute banger with Serena Deeb this past Dynamite that is already in consideration for match of the year. On the other side, Hikaru Shida is carrying the division on her back. As champion, Shida has done everything AEW has asked and then some to make the title worth a damn. Yuka Sakazaki was ridiculously over at Fyter Fest. I never watched Joshi wrestling until AEW and now I want more of it every week. The market for Joshi is there. However, The Elite EVPs need to go all in.
The AEW Women’s division is like WWE’s Cruiserweight division in 2016. They brought a bunch of indie performers unfamiliar to a casual audience and sent them out without any investment or development for the audience. Vince McMahon refused to care about the cruiserweights so he sent them back to NXT. Right now the bulk of AEW Women’s action is segregated to YouTube. Riho got over because of her matches on Dynamite and on PPVs. She really is the glue that holds the division together. So much so that when the pandemic hit, the division stumbled without her. Having the bulk of the women’s tourney on YouTube is one step forward and three steps back. It undermines all the progress Shida, Britt, and Swole have worked for. I’m not interested in Luther, or QT Marshall, or Jake Hager, or Brandon Cutler, or Fuego, or The Butcher and The Blade, or even Peter Avalon. Yet they all get more time and attention than Britt Baker and Thunder Rosa? Why?
I want Thunder Rosa vs Maki Itoh on TNT. I need Nyla Rose vs Aja Kong on TNT. I sure as hell have earned Riho vs Yuka Sakazaki on Dynamite. Joshi wrestling is beyond excellent and would bring so much more excitement to AEW. Look at Io Shirai on NXT. She has been the absolute queenpin of the NXT Women’s Division. Shirai rules the roster and whenever she main events a show, it’s a legit temptation for me to change the channel away from AEW. Clearly, I’m not alone as Io Shirai vs Sasha Banks drew 900,000 views beating AEW. I fully believe with the right build and performers, the AEW Women’s division can find similar success.
Kenny Omega is a huge fan of Joshi wrestling. Obviously with Shida as Champion and scouting talent from Tokyo Joshi Pro, Stardom, Choco Pro, & Gatoh Move, it’s clear that Kenny needs to take further steps to have Joshi regularly on AEW. When international travel is possible again, AEW has to bring in more Joshi from Japan over to America. Maki Itoh, VENY, Yuka Sakazaki, Shoko Nakajima, etc, go all-in on the Joshi flavor. AEW is all out of excuses for their women’s division. It’s time for the long-overdue Joshi takeover.